What the #@!*$#% Was Coke Thinking?

Coke billboard

I haven’t written in a long time. But I had to write about this. I hate the new Diet Coke campaign. I’ve been walking past the same bus kiosk for weeks now and I keep looking at the campaign is disbelief.

You’re on Coke.

Really? The great American icon Coca-Cola is running a campaign with the tagline ‘You’re on Coke.’ At this moment, I feel like my father ‘I remember the good old days when Coca-Cola stood for something good in the world.’

I work in advertising. I’m familiar with the thought of getting attention. But I think this crosses the line of taste. This also seems like a bad fit for the brand. I’m a huge fan of the work done by Droga5. Not this. I don’t like this. The fact that virtually every parody online is a drug reference only makes the point – Coca-Cola Company thinks the only way to perform at your best is to be coked up.

Coca-Cola’s response? “This advertising is one part of the new campaign for Diet Coke, which is called ‘You’re On.’ It celebrates ambitious young achievers from all walks of life and reminds them that Diet Coke is there to support them in the moments when they are at their best. Diet Coke in no way endorses or supports the use of any illegal substance.”

No – that’s not what the campaign says. It doesn’t say we’re there for you when you’re at your best. It says to be at your best you need coke. The brand has become a punch line.

It’s Monday. It’s still too cold in New York. And I’m not feeling like I’m at my best. Maybe I need a Pepsi.

800 Post-It Notes. 75 Campaigns. 6 Countries. 3 Days.


What happens when you get creative teams from six countries in a room together and ask them to solve a global creative problem?

In a word: magic.

For the past few days, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some incredibly talented people. We gathered in a conference room at the Westin hotel in Hamburg, Germany. Creative teams from the United States, Germany, Italy, France, Brazil and Argentina were represented. Planning and Account from the USA were also on hand. I was the host and session moderator.

We began with a simple briefing. Our creative brief was easy to understand and everyone instantly got it. The charge was given. Then the exercises began.

We began with a post-it note exercise that everyone felt was silly. We did this for what seemed like an eternity. Nobody was sure what we were trying to accomplish. “Trust the process,” I kept saying. “It will all eventually make sense.”

Next we took our 800 post it notes and divided them into categories. The stranger the name of the category, the better. Think outside the box. Stop thinking logically. There was lots of laughter. An equal amount of confusion. “Trust the process,” I asked. “It will all eventually make sense.”

Next we chose random post-in notes and wrote stories. The stories were interesting and revealing about the type of work we would create. My favorite story was titled “The Silence of the Dolphins” about a woman who works with hearing impaired dolphins.  Almost 20 stories were written. “Trust the process,” I said again. “It will all eventually make sense.”

But now the fun part began. Take everything we’ve created. The categories. The brief. The stories. And whip them into a brand manifesto for our product. I could see it in their eyes. It was beginning to make sense. Everything we had created to this point had a purpose. To add dimension to the brief. To give it a tone. To give it language. To give it passion. Now, we were about to give it a point of view.

The teams went off to work. Over dinner that night, we read our manifestos to each other. We drank wine. We sang opera. Reading manifestos in a 17th century, candle lit, wine cellar in Germany was surreal. You could feel the passion. You could feel the stake being planted in the ground. You could feel ideas beginning to be created.

But most of all, you could feel a team coming together.

Over the next 36 hours, we created over 75 campaign ideas. They came from the brief. They came from the categories. They came from the manifestos. But mostly they came from the  brilliant minds of the teams.  But not just the creative teams. Our planners jumping in with teams to create. Our branding director drew ads. The account leads wrote headlines, too. And yes, even I threw in an idea or two.  We laughed. We worked. We presented. Eventually we voted.

15 campaigns made the next round. We refined a little. We pushed. We pulled.

Then we presented to the clients. Nine clients from four separate global regions. We presented for almost two hours. We talked. We agreed. We disagreed. And in the end, we all aligned on 5 concepts to move forward.

We all stepped back and said, “The process worked.” I smiled as it all really did make perfect sense.

At the end of the three days, we did more than create a lot of work. We created global bonds that will help us stay on course as the work progresses.  There is a lot yet to do. The timeline is very short. But we’re confident in where we are heading.

Thank you to everyone who participated.

Thank you to everyone who worked over the weekend to help out.

And thank you to our client who trusted a process that they have never done before.

It was a fun few days.



SIDE BAR:  A meeting like this is impossible to coordinate. We brought in a professional meeting planner from our of our companies. Everything ran like clockwork. Amazing job. Holly – if you’re reading this – you were the secret weapon. Thank you so much!




Finding a Way to Talk About a Disquieting Condition


Published: January 7, 2013,  New York Times

A NEW print ad by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America shows a closed bathroom stall, with the gap below the door revealing the enormous clown shoes of the occupant. “I.B.D. is no laughing matter,” says the headline.

Screen shot 2013-01-10 at 2.32.03 PM

“If you have inflammatory bowel disease (I.B.D.), life can feel like a three-ring circus,” continues a block of text. “Chances are, you know one of the nearly 1 in 200 Americans who suffers from the debilitating pain and constant disruptions that come with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.” 

Other stall-door ads show a shin-to-floor view of a woman in a wedding dress (“I.B.D. gave her a day she’ll never forget”), Santa Claus (“I.B.D. doesn’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice”) and a young girl whose feet don’t reach the floor (I.B.D. can make growing up a real pain”).

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While the photos and headlines sound a note of whimsy, the text below the ads is decidedly serious, all of them noting, “The physical and emotional toll can be devastating.”

The public service ads encourage readers to learn more about Crohn’s disease by visiting a microsite, EscapeTheStall.com, which has been created for the campaign. The pro bono effort is by the New York office of DraftFCB, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

In a commercial for the campaign, the viewer hears, “Chances are you know someone with I.B.D.” The voice turns out to be that of the actress Amy Brenneman  (“Judging Amy” and “Private Practice”), who says near the end of the spot, “Someone like me.”

The organization hopes that the public service announcement will run widely on television and in movie theaters. Other elements for the campaign include billboards and ads online and in airports. Ads printed on transparent adhesive film will even appear on mirrors in public restrooms.

The nonprofit group projects that it will secure from $20 million to $23 million in donations of broadcast and print advertising over the next year. But it did not initially want to show bathrooms in its campaign.

“We really started this campaign by saying we wanted to stay away from the bathroom, because we thought the bathroom would underrepresent our disease,” said Richard Geswell, the president of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

Along with needing to evacuate frequently, symptoms of Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, include abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, fevers, weight loss and extreme fatigue.

“I was worried that our patients might think it was too lighthearted, and some aren’t in public restrooms because they can’t even leave the house,” said Mr. Geswell, who added he was won over by the new campaign, which he said struck the right tone and would spur awareness.

Rich Levy, chief creative officer of DraftFCB Healthcare, said, “When we first started this project, the last thing we wanted to do is what I’d call bathroom humor.” But he said that although the campaign was set in restrooms and had whimsical notes, its impact aimed to be more profound.

“What was the universal truth was that behind those doors are thousands and thousands of people who are suffering, and you don’t know who they are, but they know who they are,” said Mr. Levy.

Although the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation was founded in 1967, only 18.7 percent of Americans have heard of the group, according to a survey commissioned by the group.

As for Crohn’s disease itself, the survey found that 44 percent of respondents knew at least a little about the disease, below the number familiar with diabetes (86 percent), multiple sclerosis (58 percent) and lupus (46 percent).

Mr. Geswell, the foundation president, said that by raising awareness about Crohn’s, his group hoped that along with helping those who don’t know they have the disease, it would help others understand that friends and relatives might be too embarrassed to disclose their condition.

“Aunt Sally who never left the house or came to social occasions” may, far from meaning to snub her family, “turn out to have had Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis,” Mr. Geswell said. Some with Crohn’s disease must visit the bathroom as much as 40 times a day, the foundation says.

Carol Cone, co-author of “Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding” and managing director for brand and corporate citizenship at Edelman, the public relations firm, acknowledged the challenge any agency would face with such an awareness campaign.

“How do you talk about bowels and bowel movements, and do it in a way that’s not so slight and flip that it’s not taken seriously?” said Ms. Cone.

After reviewing the new campaign, Ms. Cone was impressed.

“The way they showed the feet and footwear was a wonderful analogy that Crohn’s and colitis affects anybody in any walk of life,” Ms. Cone said. “This is a sophisticated, hip and modern branding campaign.”

Why I love doing what I do

Recently, someone asked me if I miss ‘consumer’ advertising. He wondered if I missed the challenge of working on big brands with big budgets. I said, “no — I don’t miss it at all.” He seemed surprised. I guess he didn’t realize how much I love doing what I do.  He asked me why I loved it so much.

This is what I said (although not necessarily in this order):

I love when someone presents an idea and they can’t stop smiling. I love when you’re on the way to a client presentation and you know you’ve nailed the assignment. I love when someone reads a card that says ‘and the winner is Draftfcb Healthcare.’ I love when I’m surprised. I love when something that makes no sense suddenly makes perfect sense. I love when I care so much about an idea that I dream about it. I love when I’m interviewing someone and I can see they’d be a great fit for our team. I love that I miss my team when I’m away on vacation. I love watching people grow into new positions of responsibility. I love seeing the new faces. I love winning pitches. I love presenting in front of strangers.  I love when I get e-mail from Dana and it just says “Wheeeeeee!”  I love when someone tells me how much he or she loves a creative brief. I love when someone laughs so hard they do a spit take. I love when someone gets a new nickname. I love when it’s fun. I love when someone gets promoted. I love when in the middle of a meeting, someone makes an obscure movie reference and everyone knows exactly what he or she is talking about. I love when someone has an ‘ah-ha’ moment. I love it when my time sheets are up-to-date. I love it when it all comes together. I love it when it’s all a shit show. I love it when you think you’ll never come up with a solution. I love it when everything that comes out of your mouth sounds smart. I love it when things look darkest, you can find plenty of people to help you work it out.

And that’s when I realized it had nothing to do with ‘consumer’ advertising. It was that every day I have the good fortune to work with an incredibly talented group of people.  Thank you for everything you do. Have a happy holiday.

— Rich

1 Year Later – Made It To Basel

Good morning from Basel, Switzerland.

So far this has been a picture perfect trip. All the connections have been perfect. All the flights left on time and arrived on time. While the weather is a little cold and rainy, it’s not snowing, it’s not freezing and it’s pretty easy to get around.

Not like my last trip to Basel.

A little more than a year ago, I was supposed to come to Basel for a client meeting. unfortunately, two freak snow storms, multiple flight delays and lots of bad timing meant I never got here. But not for a lack of trying.

Last year, I took of from JFK airport for Basel with a connecting flight in London. (By the way, never connect through London.) Of course, that flight is an overnight flight and you always barely sleep. The day we arrived, London was hit by a freak snowstorm that closed all the airports. That meant our connecting flight to Basel was 6 hours delayed. But at least our flight was leaving. Hundreds of flights were canceled. But we were getting out. Eventually.

Our flight boarded and we took off for our short flight to Basel. Ah, but here’s the catch – that freak snowstorm that his London had moved and was now pounding France and Switzerland. Right as we were about to land, the pilot came over the PA system and announced we’d have to circle for a while Basel cleaned the runways for  us. But he told us not to worry ‘because we filled up with gas in London, so we can stay up here for a long time.’  Well, we circled for a long time, so long in fact that we had to make a detour to stop and get gas. The pilot informed us the nearest place to land was a British Airways hub in Lyon, France. Now, keep in mind that it’s snowing there, too. Hard.

We land in Lyon. We’ve now been flying or delayed for 15 hours. We sit on the ground in Lyon getting gas for another 2 hours. We remove the snow and ice from the plane – another hour. Oh, and did I mention that there’s no food on the plane since it was supposed to be a short flight.

Eventually, we take off for Basel. Hooray. Except one little detail. Basel airport has closed for the night. So mid-flight, the pilot announces that we’re heading BACK to London. Now, everyone is breaking the law. People start pulling out cellphones to find a place to stay in London. I find a Holiday Inn Express about 25 miles outside of London. It’s the only rooms available in the entire city.

Two hours later, we land in London. It’s not 2 AM. Just before our plane lands, a 747 that was heading to Mumbai decides it can’t leave London either. And empties its 500 passengers in front of our plane at London customs. I don’t know if you know this, but at 2 AM when London Customs isn’t expecting 1000 people, the two customs agents they have on the night shift aren’t really enough to handle the load. And Sophie and Trevor (the customs Agents) don’t really give a damn. Another 1-1/2 later we clear customs and get a taxi to drive us to the Holiday Inn Express. (Yes, me and three co-workers.)

It’s now 4 AM, we haven’t eaten since 11 AM. We get to the Holiday Inn Express and order the British version of Domino’s Pizza. Except this place has already closed but is willing to sell us their left over pizza. We take it.

It arrived an hour later. The night clerk at  the Holiday Inn finds us some beer. And at 5 AM, we sit in one of the rooms, eating pizza, drinking beer and watching the British version of COPS — in sign language. Yes, the only station that was broadcasting was showing COPS and instead of sound – had a woman using sign language in the corner of the screen.

Now I know what you’re thinking — no way. This did not happen like this. Something was embellished in this story. Sorry, not one word. This is exactly how it happened. Except for one other little tidbit. British Airways somehow lost my luggage. They sent it ahead to Basel even though I never made it. I wouldn’t see that bag for over a week.

But today is a different day. Today everything worked. Today my suitcase was tucked under the seat in front of me. Yes, it’s raining in Basel today. And yes, it’s a little chilly. But I made it. And after all, that’s all that really matters.


Today is a new business day

Love your existing clients. That’s my mantra for the rest of the year. Make every day like you’re pitching for their business. Show them work for free. Give them unsolicited ideas. Make them sweat. Make them uncomfortable (at times). Make them know that you are always thinking about them and their business.

And that’s nothing new. We do think about our clients every day. We just don’t tell them as often as we should.

The interesting thing about working for an advertising agency is that (at times) we’re terrible communicators. Ever look at most agency’s web site? How about the print campaign they create for themselves. Most people will say it’s because we’re too busy working on client business to work on ourselves. You know the old ‘the show makers children have no shoes’ story.  I think that’s a bunch of bull.  But that’s a posting for another day.

Today and every day we should remind our clients why they chose us in the first place. Remember – our clients chose to work with us. They didn’t just hand us their business. They had us come in, show them what we can do, show them our thinking, and they chose to work with us. Every day when we show them what we do – our thinking, our creativity, our strategic brilliance – we reaffirm that choice.

Today let’s do something amazing. Let’s find a nugget that our client hasn’t thought of first. Let’s uncover an insight that really makes us stop and think. Let’s find a creative solution for the same old problems. Let’s go out of our way to thank our clients for trusting their brands (and their jobs and future promotions) with us.

Today let’s keep our eye on the small stuff. Let’s make sure that everything has been through editorial – even if it’s only for an internal meeting. Let’s follow-up on that e-mail request a little faster. Let’s attend a meeting in person versus on the phone. Let’s make sure we fill out our timesheets quickly so we can make sure we’re on budget. Let’s communicate internally so we can make sure we’re on task.

And let’s not forget that if we don’t do all of these things every day, we risk losing everything.

There are 293 days left in 2012.  That means we have at least 293 new business meetings to do this year. Every client. Every day.


Four New Business Pitches In Five Days

Wondering where I’ve been?

The past few weeks have been (possibly) the hardest and most exhausting weeks of my career. As the agency had four pitches in five days in four different states – New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Plus we’re prepping another dozen for the next few weeks. That will include pitches in Florida, Washington, D.C., Basel Switzerland and glamorous Morristown, New Jersey.

Yes, It’s been busy.

On top of the new business activity, we’ve been creating some amazing work for our existing clients. I’m proud of the work we’re doing. One of our clients just approved an amazing new website that – the day it’s released – will be a huge step forward in pharmaceutical websites. We’re hosting an event for another company that will be huge and will frankly be unlike anything anyone has ever done before.  We’re shooting multiple TV campaigns, we’re creating a video for a pro bono client’s 50th anniversary, we’re shooting 3 print campaigns, designing multiple trade show booths and attempting to create a new agency website at the same time.

Not to mention all the daily projects that are too numerous to mention. Print ads, brochures, digital web banners, interactive visual aids, RM programs, eCRM programs, QR codes, out-of-home executions, and pharma’s coolest iPad apps.

And you know what? I love it. I love the buzz, I love the activity, I love the passion of the people working on these projects.

I’ve come to realize that when it comes to new business, it’s not really about the winning and losing. If you’re good, you’ll win your fair share. And even if you’re good, you’ll lose a few that you should have won. I’ve won pitches that I probably shouldn’t have won. I’ve lost pitches I never should have lost. But at the end of the day, I’m proud of the teamwork, the camaraderie, the intelligence, the passion, the drive, the determination, the guts, the depth and the vision of our team.

It’s hard work doing what we do. But I still wouldn’t want to do anything else in the entire world. And I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else. Yes, this week has been a hell of a week. And I can’t wait to see what happens next week.


I follow this blog – and I really like some of the posts. I loved this particular one. Although I’ve always been fond of really great knockers. Enjoy


snacks & adventure

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Ian and I were recently in Belgium, where I took 676 photos in four days.  It made me realize how quickly Cambridge has become my home – while I’m certainly not immune to its charms, it very quickly became just the place where I happen to live.  I saw all sorts of mundane things in Ghent and Brussels that completely delighted me. The best example was the door handles/letterboxes that I saw on lots of the doors, particularly while doing the Victor Horta walking tour.  The variety was incredible, and some were so intricate and Art Nouveau.  I couldn’t get enough.

In fact, I had been taking photos of balconies (not sure that’s gong to yield a good collage yet…) when I pointed the door handles out to my husband.  He said “why don’t you make a collage of those?” and I said…

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